Oil bunkering has been at the forefront of Nigerian news. The topic has been ongoing for decades. However, the recent contract awarded to the former leader of the Movement for Emancipation of Niger Delta, Mr. Government Ekpemupolo, popularly known as Tompolo, by the Federal Government has reminded Nigerians that oil bunkering is a big problem in the Niger Delta.
Tompolo was reportedly awarded a pipeline surveillance contract worth over N4 billion monthly by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) Limited. Although the news was met with mixed reactions, it doesn’t take away the fact that oil bunkering has become a cankerworm that has to be eradicated for the sake of the Niger Delta and by extension, Nigeria. If you don’t know what oil bunkering is, this article will enlighten you.
What is oil bunkering?
Oil bunkering refers to the theft of crude oil from pipelines belonging to international oil companies, and channeling of the product into tanks where it is boiled at high temperatures. The practice is illegal because oil refining is a highly dangerous process. The extracts are highly flammable and can ignite a fire disaster. There are cases of charred bodies, burnt vehicles, and other properties due to the careless effect of oil bunkering around the affected areas.
Oil bunkering in Nigeria
Nigeria produces about 1.5 million barrels of crude oil per day. But illegal refiners steal about 200,000 barrels, according to an estimate by Quartz Africa. The operations cost Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil exporter, lives and revenue. A 2019 government agency audit showed the country lost more than 40 million barrels valued at $2.77 billion.
It’s also important to note that oil bunkering is an organised crime operating on an industrial scale. The many fatalities the menace has caused has forced the federal government, particularly the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, to create measures to crack down the operations of the oil bunkers. Since January 2022, about 128 out of 142 illegal refining sites have been shut down in Rivers State. But there are many more illegal refineries in other states of the Niger Delta where fatalities have been reported. This explains why the federal government is willing to partner with a former enemy, Tompolo to crack down on operations and bring the menace to an end.
Causes of oil bunkering
It’s no news that Nigeria is the poverty capital of the world. People of the Niger Delta are also affected despite the fact that their lands produce petroleum products which serve as the major source of the nation’s revenue. People are hungry. They must eat. Therefore, the daring ones among them delve into oil bunkering to survive.
You know the saying that an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. Many youths in the country are unemployed. So a lot of them resort to lucrative crimes like oil bunkering to earn a living.
Anger and neglect
People of the Niger Delta have had a longstanding animosity against the federal government and oil companies extracting oil from their lands without investing in the host communities. Also, their lands and waters have been polluted due to a lack of effective laws guiding the drilling of crude oils in these areas. The government may constitutionally own the oil, but the land belongs to the people. Since these institutions have refused to do the needful for the people, they resort to stealing to compensate themselves, hence oil bunkering.
Lack of monitoring
Some oil pipelines have been left unmonitored for years. Some of them rust and burst, spilling oil. As a result, residents scoop the oil and refine them for sale on the black market.
Although poverty has propelled many to resort to oil bunkering to survive, it should be noted that most owners of these illegal operations are not poor people. They are well-paid people in reputable positions. But greed will not allow them to be content with what they have legally. They want more and oil bunkering provides the opportunities.
It’s not news that some unscrupulous politicians resort to sabotaging the efforts of the government for their own selfish gains. The main reason is to discredit the government to have the chance to occupy the targeted offices. These politicians participate in oil bunkering and then cry foul against the government.
Risks associated with oil bunkering
Nigeria depends heavily on crude oil from the Niger Delta. The oil bunkers contribute to the country’s bad economy by stealing oil that would have boosted the nation’s income. On the other hand, as the government increases the prices of petroleum products, oil bunkers increase their production levels which is a huge risk for the people and their properties.
Also, refining oil is a highly risky process that has to take place in a contained area. Most of these bunkers are located dangerously close to residential areas or places where there are many people. One mistake can cause a lot of fatalities. Recent reports of fire disasters in states like Imo and Rivers have shown how disastrous oil bunkering can be.
Let’s not forget the environmental pollution the practice has contributed. The Niger Delta has suffered from disastrous pollution due to oil spillage and the like. Oil bunkering is not helping matters since the operation is largely not considerate of the environment. Hence, agriculture, which is the main source of living for the indigenous people has been affected. Farmlands are unconducive for planting. Aquatic life has been affected as oil spillage makes the waters uninhabitable for fish and other seafood.
Speaking of water, the Niger Delta is surrounded by water. Yet, most of them are not conducive to drinking or cooking because of the hazards of oil bunkering. People, especially children, are at risk of high death rates due to waterborne diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera, and typhoid, among others.
How to stop oil bunkering
- The federal government should take responsibility and keep surveillance of the pipelines wherever they are. The Nigerian government is widely known for not knowing how to take care of their properties. They should do something about this.
- People who live around the pipelines should be employed to work near them. They are in the best position to monitor the pipelines and detect problems on time.
- The federal government should build refineries close to oil wells. That way, it will reduce the chances of oil bunkers stealing oil.
- The government, oil companies, and host communities should co-operate to make sure that oil bunkering is completely eradicated.
- Offenders should be arrested and prosecuted to forestall future occurrences.
Punishment for oil bunkering in Nigeria
The punishment or legal action to be taken against illegal bunkers include forfeiting the vessel used for the illegal bunkering and a jail term which could be as long as 40 years and/or a fine to be determined by the judge.
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